A Story Worth Retelling (2)

Twenty minutes later the lights came back on, and I heard the all-clear signal. The only casualty, as I was to learn later, was an outhouse. I resumed typing and got the report out even though the battle was already underway. The attack, as it turned out, was the beginning of the battle of Dak To, one of the bloodiest in the war.

I could not have devised a better way to impress the military. I never quite got up the nerve to admit that I had stayed put through the attack from sheer witlessness. The faint distrust I’d encountered from officers and enlisted men alike (I was a civilian after all) disappeared. From that day forward I was welcomed into both the officers’ and enlisted men’s club tents, I was called into action at all hours of the day and night just like the military, I was seen as one of them on the battlefield during live combat, and everybody stopped calling me “sir.”

Throughout my time in the highlands, I was sleeping on the ground along with the soldiers. One morning when I woke up, my fatigues—the army uniform I was wearing to conceal my identity from the enemy—were missing. Dressed in my skivvies, I hurried around the cantonment area asking if anybody knew where my fatigues were. They showed up a half hour later with 13s sewn on the collars where an officer’s rank would appear (my civilian rank at the time was a GS-13 , which meant, in theory, that I outranked most of the officers).  The right pocket had a patch that read “GLENN; the left patch read “CIVILIAN,” and my fatigue cap was decorated with the unit symbol. All of this led to the confusion of those personnel who didn’t know me and were never sure who, if anybody, should salute.

The soldiers found the whole situation hilarious. They couldn’t stop laughing. They insisted on snapping pictures of me in the altered fatigues. I still have one of those photos today. It remains one of my most cherished possessions.

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